The St. Louis County Council is the first of area political entities to consider a new tax that would support programs that help older residents.
Councilman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, introduced a bill that would raise property taxes by 5 cents for every $100 of assessed property. If the council passes Page's bill, the measure will go to the voters. And if county voters approve the measure in November, the proceeds from the tax increase will go into a fund that could be used for senior service programs.
For instance: A board overseeing the fund could dole out grants to bolster Meals on Wheels or transportation programs. It’s similar to the Children’s Service Fund, which the county implemented a little more than a decade ago.
Jamie Opsal is with Seniors Count of Greater St. Louis, a group that’s backing the tax increase. If voters approve the measure, Opsal estimated that the tax would generate more than $11 million a year.
Opsal also said similar property tax proposals would be introduced in the city of St. Louis and St. Charles County later this year.
“We chose to go with three counties at one time because about 22 percent of all older adults in the entire state of Missouri live in these three jurisdictions,” Opsal said. “So we decided we would use the resources that we have to focus on getting this initiative on the ballot in all three regions.”
Carroll Rodriguez of the St. Louis Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association said a county senior services fund could help bolster a program that provides time off for caregivers.
“It allows caregivers to take a much needed break and have relief from the day-to-day hardship of caregiving,” Rodriguez said last week. “And it is a program that provides some financial assistance allowing them to do so. However, the need has outstripped the funds that are available – both at the state level and in our community. In St. Louis County, there are close to 60 people on a waiting list – some have been on that waiting list for over a year because all the funds have been distributed.
“[The property tax increase] could provide a funding stream to help those families on the waiting down the road,” she said.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said he supports having voters take up the matter later this fall.
“I think all of us can relate to this issue in a very personal way – many of us have parents who are seniors,” Stenger said. “I know I want to see our seniors age in place. You know, age in the place where they grew up or the place where they have lived. And we should be able to do that locally. And I think that this tax is a step in that direction. I think it’s important.”
Opsal said she doesn’t think it will be a tough sell to get the tax passed, adding “that the tax is relatively low.”
“If you own a home that’s worth $100,000, it’s $9.50 a year,” Opsal said. “So less than a dollar a month would go into provide resources. The other main thing is we have an aging community. The city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. And people 60 years of age and older are projected to increase to 28 percent of the total population in St. Louis County in the next 14 years. Right now, the agencies that provide these resources can’t keep up with the needs that have currently. When you bring in then the baby boomers that are in aging in place, they’re going to be overwhelmed.”
The Council will likely take a final vote on the proposal in the next several weeks.